June 30, 2005

‘Empire’ falters for ABC; NBC’s ‘Joe’ below average

By Nellie Andreeva and Andrew Wallenstein

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It was a rough launchfor ABC's big-budget limited series "Empire" and the return ofNBC's "Average Joe" franchise Tuesday.

On a night when the networks' schedules were disrupted bythe coverage of a speech by President Bush, both shows openedto disappointing numbers.

Also squeezing the broadcasters was cable network BET'sfifth annual BET Awards, which outrated all six networks in thecoveted adults 18-49 demographic.

The 9-11 p.m. premiere of the ancient Rome-themed drama"Empire" averaged 6.4 million viewers and a 1.9 rating/5 shareamong adults 18-49, finishing third in the demo in the 9-10p.m. hour and second from 10-11 p.m.

After a yearlong hiatus, the fourth installment of "AverageJoe," dubbed "Average Joe: The Joes Strike Back" opened to 4.3million viewers and a 1.9/5 in 18-49, according to NielsenMedia Research. The premiere aired at 10 p.m. on the East Coastand in its regular 8 p.m. slot on the West Coast.

The debut of "Average Joe 4" was down significantly fromthe in-season debut of its predecessor, "Average Joe 3," whichdrew 10.7 million viewers and a 5.4/14 in 18-49 in March 2004.

"Average Joe" didn't get help from its lead-in, the NBCreality series "I Want to Be a Hilton" (4.5 million, 1.8/5),which was down 28% in the demo from its unimpressive premierelast week.

With repeats and "Fire Me ... Please," CBS easily won thenight with an average of 6.3 million viewers and a 2.3/6 inadults 18-49. Fox (5.9 million, 2.1/6) was second in the 18-49demographic, followed by ABC (6.0 million, 1.8/5) and NBC (4.6million, 1.7/5).

But the night truly belonged to BET, whose 8 p.m. awardshow grabbed a 2.9 rating in 18-49 and a total haul of 6.6million viewers. It was the largest audience in the network'shistory but not its highest-rated show ever: That distinctionstill goes to a 1995 interview with O.J. Simpson (because BETwas available in far fewer homes 10 years ago).

There still was room for other cable shows to shine: MTV's"The Real World" picked up steam in its second week, drawing4.1 million at 10 p.m. FX's "Rescue Me" delivered a respectable2.6 million in the same time slot. All the competition spoiledthe debut for the new Comedy Central series "Stella," whichdrew a disappointing 1.3 million.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter